Friday, March 1, 2013

The What If Apple Recipe

by Sheila Connolly

Mystery writers often ask themselves "what if I…" particularly when they're stuck on a plot point. What if I add an evil twin?  What if the gun is hidden in the flour bin? What if the victim is not really dead?

I'm always on the lookout for apple recipes, and I have been for years.  Some of them I never even tried—just filed them away for some future date.  Seems like the future has arrived, and I pulled out a recipe for what was called "Apple Dutch Baby."  The dish is basically sautéed apples with a batter poured over them, and then the whole thing is baked. I had to look up the history of the term "dutch baby" but my general impression was that it is kind of a giant pancake with stuff in it.

The recipe also reminded me of clafouti, a traditional French dessert, usually made when the first cherries of the new harvest (of course Julia Child pointed me to it).  It's very similar:  fruit-batter-bake.

But in both cases, the batter is moist and eggy.  That's not a bad thing, but it wasn't what I was looking for.  Then I remembered one of my favorite British/Irish pub dishes, Toad in the Hole.  This is savory: link sausages-batter-bake. We eat that a lot in my household, in part because the fat from the sausages makes it crunchy (if done right; otherwise it's eggy, see above).

What if I combined the two recipes?

Cortland apples
The first hurdle that I could see was that the apples, which are sautéed in butter first, might produce a lot of liquid.  It's important to (a) pick the right apples, that won't turn to watery mush when you cook them; and (b) cook them well with plenty of butter.  Hey, it's a dessert—indulge yourself!

The second hurdle was adjusting the batter so that it was less eggy, which meant reducing the number of eggs and increasing the flour.  I also wanted it to be a bit sweet and spicy, so I added some sugar and some ground cinnamon.

Toad in the Hole is traditionally made in a skillet or baking pan (it resembles Yorkshire pudding, which soaks up pan drippings so nothing from a roast is wasted).  I am a firm believer in using as few dishes as possible, since nobody in our family likes to wash dishes, so I opted for the skillet version—that's a cast-iron skillet, that heats up high and holds the heat, and can go straight from stovetop to oven.

So here we go:  The What If Recipe

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.


1 cup whole milk
2 eggs
1 cup white flour
2 Tblsp sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
2 Tblsp vanilla extract
1 Tblsp melted butter

Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor, then blend for a minute (a full minute—this is important, so time it), right before you're ready to bake.


2 Tblsp salted butter
3 medium cooking apples (like Cortlands), peeled, cored, and sliced thickly
2 Tblsp sugar

Melt the butter in a 9" cast-iron skillet, then add the apples and sauté on medium-high heat until they begin to brown just a bit.  Sprinkle the sugar over them and continue cooking for a couple more minutes. (If the mixture looks soupy at this point, drain some of the liquid off.)

When the apples are just about ready, make the batter.  While the apples are still over the heat on the stove, pour the batter over them (the batter should sizzle around the edges) and immediately place the skillet into the preheated oven.  Bake for 30 minutes.

Ready for the oven

If the kitchen gods are smiling on you, the batter will puff up and turn golden and crisp.  This is a dish that should be served as quickly as possible, while it's still warm.  You can sprinkle it with powdered sugar if you want.

It worked!
I love it when a plot comes together!

 Buried in a Bog -- now in its second week on
the New York Times bestseller list!


  1. This sounds so yummy! I agree with you on the 'egginess' of some recipes. Most crepe recipes are too eggy for me. I plan to make this tonight for desert, it will be a treat after our simple, meatless meal.

  2. I used to make a Dutch baby pancake with blueberries that was something like this--it was delish! thanks for the reminder:)

  3. "What if" is the perfect explanation for how mystery writers (and recipe developers) work, Sheila, and I enjoyed reading the steps of how you came up with this--a nice versatile recipe, too, that we can enjoy for breakfast or dessert. Thanks for sharing and have a great weekend.

  4. Buried In a Bog was a delight to read and this sounds like a delight to eat. With a nice cup of tea!

  5. Sounds delicious. I confess that I'm a sucker for almost anything with cooked or baked apples. They're just so good!


  6. Krista, I love the way apples show up in everything--desserts, breakfast, with pork or poultry (hmm, have I seen an apple & fish recipe?) How nice that they're good for us too!

    I can't think of the term "dutch baby" (which apparently has nothing to do with the Dutch but is a corruption of "deutsch" or German) without recalling a friend, whose father made it a practice of cooking them for breakfast on Sundays--including all the leftovers from Saturday dinner. The results, as you can imagine, were a bit odd.